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Manu’s Grab Bag: Christmas Present

We talk getting back to winning ways, the loanee army and a striker finding his groove.

Frosinone Calcio v Juventus - Serie A TIM Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Before we start, I want to shout out real quick the much-improved Star+ app that broadcasts all of Serie A games in Latin America for growing leaps and bounds in the last couple of seasons and allowing me to sleep in and catch the replay of this game later in the morning. Because, as I said before, there was no way on God’s green earth I was waking up at 5:30 in the morning to watch this matchup.

So, thankfully, I got an easy nine hours in before I woke up, had myself a cup of coffee and watched Juventus beat Frosinone 2-1 to start my Saturday morning at a decent time.

Juventus also helped with my mood thanks to them getting back in the winning column and getting a tough win against a Frosinone team that had only lost once previously at home. Despite remaining four points off the lead thanks to Inter Milan beating Lecce later on in the day, it was nice to see Juve bounce back after their letdown performance last week against Genoa.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Kenan Yildiz

Far be it from me to fall prey to the hype machine, but ...

Anybody scoring a goal like that would be impressive. For an 18-year-old making his first start in Serie A is even more so. Especially in a team that really hadn’t seen a move like that in a second. We had been hearing for a while about Yildiz’s development and, while he had been given minutes sporadically here and there, this was the first real sample size of playing time for the Turkish teenager and he did not disappoint.

Everyone and their mother will share the above highlight — as they should because it was a fantastic goal — but his whole game was impressive. Leading the team in dribbles and showing flashes of creative potential that we just haven’t seen a whole lot this year. The way Yildiz was finding lanes and spaces with his passing as well as his already incredibly control handle of the ball reminded me a little of what Paulo Dybala used to do for this team a few seasons ago.

And look, obviously he’s still far from reaching the levels of a guy like Dybala, but he is just barely 18 years old and he already looked like he very much belonged in that field. There’s a world of difference between playing a pretty good game against Frosinone and being a top player in the league. That being said ... the mind wonders how far he can still get to in his development. Add to all that these type of factoids:

How can you not be excited about this guy?

Runner Up: Weston McKennie - He did not have the flashiest game, but this was McKennie doing what he does best. Just all over the field in every single play. Hit the post once and ended up with the game winning assist to tp his day off. Sure, his skill set is not quite complimentary to this team, but I’ve grown fond of McKennie in his second stint with Juve. He doesn’t do a whole bunch of things, but what he can do, is always at a high level — and that’s not nothing.

Juve Next Gen - Frosinone Branch

Yes, I know this joke has been repeated a thousand times this season, but it was still remarkable to see so many youth players from Juve — and former Juve youth players! Hi, Pol Lirola! — all starting in the same lineup and that lineup not being Juventus.

Enzo Barrenechea, Matias Soule and (future GOAT) Kaio Jorge all started in this game against the team that they remain under contract with, and while it was nice to see them in action, it was evident for all of them why exactly they are currently plying their trade for a team more looking to avoid relegation than anything else.

All of them had moments that made you aware of how highly rated they are and why Juventus signed them in the first place. Especially Jorge and Soule had flashes of legit skill that get you excited about their future prospects. Future being the key word here ad they all showed that while they can have solid stints of play, they are still not ready to be day in and day out players for a team with title — or fine, top four — aspirations.

As news broke that another Juventus youngster is heading to Frosinone, I’m excited about the return leg in late February and potential Coppa Italia quarterfinal tie. Will we see a starting eleven with four guys under contract for Juve? Hopefully.

Winner: Dusan Vlahovic

Did you know that Vlahovic leads the league in one statistic? Can you guess which statistic that is?

Yikes.

And look, there’s a bunch of other great players that feature in that table, but considering the production that a guy like Lautaro Martinez is putting forth — 15 goals and counting — you live and die with some chances. But Vlahovic has been missing a lot while struggling to score and that0s a bad combination.

I’ve been as critical of him about this as I can, but gotta give credit where it’s due: Vlahovic did exactly what he had to do in his substitute appearance on Saturday. He had three great chances and he buried two of them — one being chalked off due to a borderline offsides call. You take those numbers any chance you get.

Parting Shot of the Week

It feels crazy to say as we are almost wrapping up the 2023 calendar year, but with the win Juventus has lost just once this season, already reached 40 points and is in the thick of a title battle. If you had asked anybody when the season started, they would have taken this and run.

And I get that it hasn’t always been great, but this is the best half of a season that Juventus has had in a while, so for Christmas sake, let’s all enjoy it for a bit, huh?

See you Saturday.